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Friday, May 24, 2019

The 5 Best Adaptations of Shakespeare on Film

There's a reason that William Shakespeare's plays have survived and remain relevant over four centuries since they were written. Politics and elements of social conventions get wrapped up in wild, often bizarre trends, but the human condition remains constant.

The motivations we have, and our emotions are burned into our biology, no matter how much social theorists would like otherwise. Love, jealousy, ambition, greed, hare, fear and courage are part of us all, and no dramatist has demonstrated so great an understanding of these basic elements of human psychology than Shakespeare. These aspects of us are universal, which is why Shakespeare has been successfully adapted to just about every culture on earth.

While there have been spectacularly wonderful adaptations of Shakespeare, notable among them are Akira Kurowsawa's Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and Ran (King Lear), and of course some have even morphed into musicals (West Side Story), the language of the original is poetry.

With that in mind, the following are, in my opinion and in no specific order, what I believe to be the five best examples of Shaespeare's work which have been made into motion pictures, and are faithful to the respective plays, some edits due to the length and the time limitations of feature film notwithstanding.

I won't go into much description of them, as there's plenty of information which can easily be found online about each of these movies.

Julius Caesar (1953)

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Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring James Mason, Marlon Brando, John Gielgud, Deborah Kerr, Edmond O'Brien, Greer Garson, and Louis Calhern.

This movie raised skeptical eyebrows with its casting of Brando as Marc Anthony. His, like the rest of the cast's performances, was outstanding.

Richard III (1995)

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By Source, Fair useLink

Directed by Richard Loncraine, starring Ian McKellen, Annette Benning, Robert Downey Jr., Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Maggie Smith.

This version's visual presentation reimagines the play into a 1930's fascist England, but as the dialogue and plot are faithful to the play, it still qualifies for this list, and it's outstanding in its direction and acting.

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael York, Cyril Cusak, Michael Hordern, Natasha Pyne, Alfie Lynch

This is, along with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the best screen pairing of Burton and Taylor. The rest of the cast is tremendous and Zeferrelli's direction is lush and lavish, far better than his other attempts at Shakespeare, including his popular version of Romeo and Juliet.


Macbeth (1971)

File:Original movie poster for the film Macbeth.jpg

Directed by Roman Polanski, starring Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw and Terence Bayler.

Whatever one may think of Roman Polanski, he knows how to direct movies and this was Polanski at the height of his talent. Great performances, beautifully filmed,  and faithfully transcribed from Shakespeare in a screenplay by Polanski and Kenneth Tynan.

Hamlet (1948) 


Directed by Lawrence Olivier, starring Lawrence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Anthony Quayle, and Norman Wooland.

You didn't imagine there was going to be a 'best Shakespeare on film' list without at least one of Olivier's movies, did you? Lawrence Olivier is generally considered the best interpreter of Shakespeare in the 20th Century and Hamlet was his most famous role.

Directed by the star, this is the archetypical Shakespeare movie, with performances and direction that make it essential viewing.